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Throughout the U.S. occupational injuries within the oil industry is above and beyond the rates of any other occupational injuries of any other industry. According to the Bureau of Labor, in 2004, 6.2 workers of every 100 full-time workers was non-fatally injured, while the rate for all other industries was 4.2 workers injured of every 100 full-time workers. Fatalities have ranged from several dozen to over 100 per year, depending on the accidents and/or disasters. The industry, however dangerous it is, plays a significant role in the economy and U.S. independence on energy. The oil industry has a role in Maryland’s economy, too, but to date, there are no offshore oilfields included in Maryland’s energy portfolio. But that may soon change.
Offshore Oilfield Prospects in Maryland
At the end of April 2017, an executive order reopened areas off the mid-Atlantic coast, including areas off the coast of Maryland’s scenic, tourist belove places: Ocean City and Assateague Island National Seashore. There has been a battle for years over offshore oil exploration and drilling in Maryland. Under President Obama’s administration, a plan to lease three million acres off the mid-Atlantic coast to offshore drilling for oil and natural gas reserves was halted via a moratorium. Under the current administration, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke wants to expand the offshore drilling for oil and gas in the region more than what was initially anticipated before the Obama administration moratorium.
Causes & General Nature of Offshore Oilfield Accidents
Offshore oil exploration and production activities involve significant risks for those employed in the industry. Exploration requires the use of heavy machinery. Production requires the construction of offshore facilities to extract and store discovered oil. Constructed, operational offshore oilfields also pose serious hazards to the men and women who work on and around the oilfields offshore. The deaths of 11 workers in 2010, known as the Deepwater Horizon disaster, is a reminder of the dangers offshore oil drilling poses.
Even when employers keep working conditions as safe as they possibly can, accidents happen. Accidents specific to offshore oilfields are also specific to the maritime environment and the unique infrastructure of offshore oilfield facilities. Accidents occur on oil rigs, on a fixed platform, during pipeline transportation and from problems with the “dynamic positioning” of vessels.
People employed offshore on oil rigs encounter hazards on a regular basis. There are a number of conditions that make oil rigs dangerous: the nature of the facility, the job, the pressures, and the location. Oil rigs are huge to say the least, and they are complex facilities equipped with heavy, dangerous machinery. The nature of oil rigs alone makes workers vulnerable to injury or death. Apart from the nature of the facilities, the work itself makes for dangerous conditions. The heavy machinery in tight spaces with multiple personnel coming and going. Employees are also under great amounts of stress to produce results as quickly as possible, which can often lead to corners being cut on safety and maintenance and employees working past their limits. Compounding these issues is the location. Oil rigs are located miles away from land thus, when accidents happen, the effects can be more devastating as emergency teams are informed and mobilized to the scene of the accident.
Common causes of accidents on oil rigs include:
- Poor inspections and missed warning signs
- Improper maintenance of equipment and facilities
- Blowouts (like Deepwater Horizon disaster) that lead to fires or explosions
- Slippery conditions that result in falls onto lower decks or into the ocean
- Failing, outdated or defective equipment and machinery that lead to breakdowns or other problems
- Inadequate manpower or insufficient training that leads to errors on the job
- Leaky toxic chemicals or fumes that lead to burns, skin conditions, poisoning, respiratory disease, other illnesses, or death.
Fixed platforms are platforms anchored to the seabed by use of concrete or steel legs that support a deck that’s equipped with drilling rigs and production facilities. Fixed platforms are defined differently under federal law than motorized vessels and floating platforms. Regulations have been put in place over the years to improve working conditions on fixed platforms, and better working conditions did follow after the implementation of these regulations. Accidents, however, still happen. Some of the accidents could have been prevented while others could not have been foreseen. From safety oversights to rough water, the prospects of an injury while working aboard a fixed platform remain a significant possibility.
Common reasons workers on fixed platforms sustain injuries are:
- Safety inspection oversights
- Insufficient manpower or improperly trained employees
- Slippery decks or platforms
- Oil or gas explosions
- Collapsed platforms or grates
- Breathing intoxicating vapors or chemicals.
According to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, pipeline transportation accidents are significant. Since 1987, there has been an average of 16 deaths and 77 serious injuries per year due to pipeline accidents. The costs associated with the accidents since 1987 has totaled more than $7 billion. The nature of pipeline activity exposes offshore workers to significant risks. Because of the pipelines’ location in sea water, the pipes corrode rather rapidly, thus affecting the offshore infrastructure generally and fixed walls, permanent platforms, and pipelines specifically. The corrosion can lead to serious deterioration that puts workers at imminent risk. Apart from corrosion, other common causes of accidents associated with pipeline transportation are welding defects, pipeline damage done by excavation equipment to pipelines, and natural disasters (e.g., hurricanes).
Dynamic Positioning Vessel
Dynamic positioning is a computer-controlled system that automatically maintains a vessel’s position at sea using the vessel’s own propellers and thrusters. This technology is now standard on all oil and gas vessels because it allows vessels to navigate deeper waters further offshore and to maintain its position even in times when the water current and/or weather conditions work against the vessel’s position.
As these vessels move further and further offshore, the risk of accidents and injuries sustained from those accidents multiply. Employees, particularly divers, are exposed to accidents when the technology fails or the vessel itself is weakened from extensive use of the vessel further offshore. Some factors that contribute or instigate accidents aboard a dynamic positioned vessel include:
- Dynamic positioning technology failures
- Other malfunctioning or broken equipment
- An unseaworthy vessel
- Insufficient or improperly trained crew members
- Overall conditions: slippery decks, tight spaces, and busy workers.
Offshore Oilfields: Common Injuries Sustained from Accidents
The potential for injuries or fatal accidents aboard oil rigs — that may become a part of Maryland’s economy one day — is enormous. Common injuries sustained in any accident that can occur on an offshore oilfield facility or during the commission of offshore oilfield employment include:
- Mild to severe traumatic brain injuries (TBI)
- Spinal cord damage
- Severe burns
- Chemical poisoning
- Toxic inhalation
- Crushing injuries
- Multiple broken bones
- Back injuries
- Neck injuries
- Hearing loss
- Injuries specific to divers, like decompression sickness, underwater welding burns or loss of oxygen
The extent or range of possible injuries is enormous. These kinds of injuries require extensive medical treatment, the costs of which can be significant. Some of these injuries will lead to short-term disability while others lead to long-term disability. Some of these injuries, too, will cause death.
Comprehensive, Resourceful Offshore Oilfield Legal Representation
Oil exploration may start anytime in the near future. If you or someone you know is injured during the exploration or construction of oil and oilfields offshore, then you may qualify for compensation and other benefits under Maritime law. But Maritime law is incredibly complex and intricate. Navigating it is like navigating a maze and meeting blocks and almost every corner… unless you are a Gilman & Bedigian lawyer who has a vast understanding of the law.
Furthermore, our team of lawyers already have a significant understanding of the oil and gas industry. Our extensive representation of parties injured from hydraulic fracturing operations has provided space for us to grow our oil and industry practice to help both community members and workers of the industry receive just and fair compensation when they have been injured by an accident associated with the oil and gas industry.
At Gilman & Bedigian, our lawyers don’t play guessing games. At Gilman & Bedigian, our lawyers don’t make claims without results. At Gilman & Bedigian, our lawyers are committed to the law, the facts, and obtaining the right compensation you deserve. We don’t stop until you have recovered the damages that the law mandates. Our legal skills are complemented by our understanding of the oil and gas industry, our resources and network with experts in the field, our ability to analyze the facts and strategically apply the law, and our compassion for the injuries you or a loved one has sustained.
Maryland Maritime Attorneys at Gilman & Bedigian
The attorneys at the Maryland law office of Gilman & Bedigian represent maritime workers who have been injured during the course of their work. You deserve the compensation that maritime law protections afford you, and we know how to fight for your interests and secure those protections. Contact us online or call our law office at (800) 529-6162.